Best Practices for Gaining Patient Trust in Digital Outreach

Best Practices

September 8, 2023
A happy senior man is looking at his phone for information his medical team sent him.

Key Takeaways

  1. Texting works. It is more efficient for staff and patients love it
  1. Building trust is critical for success with digital patient engagement
  1. How you communicate with and involve staff and patients is key to success

The Case for Adopting Digital Patient Communication

Three-quarters of individuals will not answer a call if they do not know who is calling. With all the scams and phishing, it is understandable why asking a patient to click on a link may generate suspicion.  

Secure texting is more convenient for patients and more efficient for staff. Fully a third of staff time can be spent playing phone tag with patients each day.  Staffing shortages further prevent staff from making needed phone calls and from responding to inbound calls in a timely manner.

Value-based care is increasing demand for proactive outreach to close gaps in care and improve population health. Proactive outreach is necessary because patients often don't know when they should be seen. Sending a mass communication is much more cost-effective than trying to call all the patients who should be seen.

Texting works. It is convenient and most people love it. 

Organizations are increasingly adding patient texting to their communication strategy. 90% of individuals read a text message within 30 minutes of receiving it. Unlike a phone message, you can track if the patient received and opened the message.  

Smartphone adoption has exploded to 84% with adoption by adults over 65 (61%) and individuals earning less than $30,000/year (76%) growing rapidly. This level of adoption makes secure texting a great option for a busy practice. That said, there have been lessons learned by early adopters as they discover what works and what doesn’t.

Best Practices for Gaining Patient Trust

Gaining a patient's trust in the links you send them is essential to maintain a professional and secure relationship. Here are some best practices to ensure your patients feel confident that the links you send are safe:

Educate your patients  

Patients have a choice if they will adopt digital communication channels.  Explain the benefits and then provide them the option to opt in or out. At QliqSOFT we see patient engagement rates as high as 95% for organizations that communicate with and provide value to patients using digital channels. 

Create a patient education campaign to increase awareness and provide a hotline for more information. Depending on budget, resources, and channels available, tactics can include:

  • Equipping staff with a one-page overview to hand-deliver during patient appointments and distribute through group email.
  • Leveraging front-line staff, including physicians, to advocate benefits.
  • Creating office signage and literature. Consider creating an explainer video or visual on the waiting room television or monitor. 
  • Adding a brief overview of the new digital outreach program to your website and phone messaging. You might even redirect patients waiting on hold to self-service capabilities on your website.
  • Placing ads across digital platforms where your patient community is likely a subscriber.

Ask for patient feedback, and act on it.

  • Measure patient satisfaction with brief surveys.
  • Ask patients for their input and ideas to make their experience even better. Identify a person who will summarize this data for the care team and follow up on patient concerns and questions.
  • If you have a patient council, review your plan with them and ask for feedback.

Involve your staff  

Provide staff with talking points explaining the changes affecting the patients and the related staff responsibilities:

  • Explain why the organization is making changes, how they will impact the team, and the benefits to the staff and patients.
  • Involve staff in designing and reviewing the program. Ask for their feedback and act on it.
  • Train staff on tools and talking points so they can explain the benefits to patients.
  • Ask staff to capture and share patient feedback.
  • Appoint a go-to resource for staff to share concerns and feedback.
  • Continue to work with your staff to drive patient adoption.
A doctor selecting an option on a ipad.

Integrate digital into your existing workflow

Patients are more likely to embrace digital if it improves and simplifies their experience and doesn’t cause rework. Here are several examples:

  • Provide the option to text or self-schedule an appointment instead of waiting on hold. 
  • Send proactive outreach prior to a scheduled appointment to complete office check-in prior to a visit.   
  • Send a reminder of an upcoming home visit with a picture of the person who is coming.
  • Send a summary of decisions and next steps after a visit to reinforce verbal instructions.
  • Send a reminder of upcoming preventive care that is due and provide the patient with an option to schedule it.  

Offer self-service convenience

Patients have enhanced service expectations when meeting with their doctor or a care team member. If these expectations are unmet, they will increasingly seek other options. In the worst-case scenario, frustrated patients will only go to the doctor when necessary, potentially suffering health consequences. 82% of patients say quality customer service is the most important factor they consider when choosing care.  

 Amazon and other digitally native companies have created growing expectations for a convenient retail-like experience. Providers must realize that patients prefer speed, selection, and ease akin to online shopping.

Digital provides the option of 24x7 asynchronous convenience. Having the ability to make an appointment or send a note when it is convenient reinforces the value of digital. Providing digital convenience differentiates an organization from competitors and increases patient loyalty.

Inform patients they will be receiving digital communication

If staff are sending a link in follow-up to a conversation with a patient have them explain briefly  

  • what they will be sending to the patient,
  • what the link leads to, and
  • why it's important. 

For example, if the patient has just scheduled an appointment by phone, have staff tell the patient that they will be receiving a text confirmation and information to help them prepare for their visit. This can help the patient verify the legitimacy of the link and reinforce trust.

Enable the patient to escalate to a live agent

Most people can share an experience navigating a phone tree of automated options and not being able to get to a live agent. To avoid this with digital, enable patients to escalate conversations with AI digital assistants to a live agent. Have a virtual waiting room to manage the connection of staff with the patient. Communicate hours of service for non-urgent topics.  

Patients require a means of contacting their healthcare provider outside of regular hours. This is because value-based care financial incentives prioritize the prevention of unnecessary emergency visits and hospital stays. 

A recent study showed that 61% of emergency visits were for less urgent or non-urgent conditions. Consider educating patients on when to call 911 vs. when to use digital outreach to engage on-call staff. Staff can respond by secure text or even initiate a virtual visit to screen the patient to determine the most appropriate next steps.

Use clear and descriptive communication in text or email messages

Some patients will receive messages for a campaign, like reminders for tests or exams. These messages will have a link to a chatbot for more information.  Patients may perceive generic messages as spam. Instead:

  • Clearly identify your organization,
  • explain why you are sending the link,
  • and describe what the patient can expect when they click on it.  

Use plain language and avoid jargon. Consider upgrading to MMS messages. SMS messages are text only. By upgrading to an MMS message, the organization can add its logo and have more characters to communicate the message.  

Personalize your messages: Use custom fields to mass personalize messages. For example, when sending a chatbot to a group of patients you are preparing for a scheduled procedure:

  • Reference the patient and your organization by name.
  • Include the name of the procedure and the date it is scheduled. 

Address the patient by their name. Using a personalized message, builds trust and engagement. Generic messages might be perceived as spam.

Apply your organization's branding

Work with your marketing team to apply your organizations branding colors to chatbots. Consider developing either an organizational avatar or even an avatar specific to individual needs. For example, you may want to adopt a female avatar for women’s or children’s health messages. 

Woman in a wheelchair checking a message on her ipad.

Send text campaigns during normal business hours

Resist the urge to send campaigns outside of business hours. This may stimulate patients to question the legitimacy of the text.

Use HIPAA-secure texting  

Ensure the link you're sending uses the HTTPS protocol. This indicates a secure and encrypted connection, which is crucial for protecting sensitive information. See here for best practices for patient secure communication.

Offer alternatives

If your patient is hesitant about clicking on a link, provide an alternative method for them to access the information. Direct them to your website and guide them to navigate to the relevant page. Allow patients to opt-out of messages.

Track adoption and optimize

Patient digital engagement solutions are only effective if they are used. Review vendor reporting to track key metrics such as:

  • undelivered messages,  
  • open rates, and  
  • completion rates to track and optimize the efficacy of your communication strategy.  

Often issues such as low open rates demonstrate the need to revise SMS messages or to reinforce patient education.

Share results with staff and ask for feedback. Staff are experts in identifying barriers that require addressing to increase adoption.

Building trust takes time. Consistently practicing these best practices can help you establish a reliable reputation with clients and engage patients, building loyalty.

The Author
Bobbi Weber

Bobbi is a lifelong learner who is passionate about enabling healthcare transformation. She has 20+ years of healthcare experience in care delivery, consulting, healthcare IT, and market strategy.

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